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What is Visual Basic?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Visual Basic is a programming language developed by Microsoft. It has a strong following, although it has been largely replaced by Microsoft’s Visual Basic .NET, which ships as a part of the Microsoft Visual Studio .NET. The original language itself lasted from 1991 to 1998, and support continued for the next decade, before finally being phased out.

The core principles of Visual Basic were built on the older BASIC language, which was a mainstay of computer programmers throughout the 1980s. Alan Cooper had developed a drag-and-drop interface in the late-1980s, and Microsoft approached him to ask him and his company, Tripod, to develop the concept into a form building application. When they delivered this project, known as Ruby at the time, Microsoft decided to bundle it with the BASIC programming language, creating the new language.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

Over the next seven years, Visual Basic would go through a number of iterations, leading up to version 6.0, a robust programming language. Microsoft eventually abandoned supporting the language, although its runtimes are supported by all subsequent Microsoft operating systems. In spite of no formal support, Visual Basic has an active community of programmers that act to support one another and to help people new to the language.

In 2001, after Visual Basic had been out of development for three years, Microsoft replaced it with a version built on the .NET framework. In spite of many positive features, the fact that the new version was not built to be fully backward compatible with older version of Visual Basic caused a number of problems. Ultimately, it has led to a significant rift in the developer community, as many programmers remained with the older language, while others moved on to the new one.

Many people find Visual Basic to be an ideal beginning programming language, because its graphical features make it more intuitive for some users. Fundamentally, it still relies on the BASIC language, but it strips out some of the more difficult parts of programming by giving an easier to use interface. Often, it will be the first programming language a person learns, before moving on to a language like C++. Sometimes, however, a programmer may become comfortable enough with Visual Basic that it remains his or her primary programming language, even for building complex programs.

Any sort of program can be built with Visual Basic, and it is a robust and versatile environment. The modern .NET language includes many features not found in a lot of contemporary languages, which makes it ideal for a number of purposes. As of 2005, the language saw some significant overhauls that were meant to bring it more in line with more powerful .NET languages. These included the addition of partial classes, nullable types, and generics. As of 2008, and Visual Basic 9.0, the language included anonymous types, XML literals, type inference, and a true if operator.

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      Woman doing a handstand with a computer